As a speech pathologist and school psychologist, we often hear concerns from parents about their children’s social, emotional, and/or executive functioning skills. Inevitably, these conversations turn to the challenges their children have with starting and completing daily chores and following through with their responsibilities.
This post is a guide to help parents to better understand the potential for turning mundane chores into learning opportunities.
What Chores Should I Expect My Child to be Able to Do at Each Age?
Before delegating chores to a child is, parents should consider what is developmentally appropriate for their child’s age and abilities. For example, a typically developing 5-year-old child may be able to pick up their toys and help fold laundry. A 10-year-old may be able to make their own snack and help wash the car. A teen can do their laundry, help with grocery shopping. To help decide what’s appropriate for your child, I have created a handy download which you can grab at the bottom of this blog.
How Do I Get my Child to Do Chores?
Some mistakes that parents make include giving chores that have too many steps for their child’s planning skills, that are too difficult physically, or are triggers for sensory issues.
The “Goldilocks” Chore
The first step is to think about that “just right” level of difficulty. Developmental psychologists call this the “Zone of Proximal Development” which is the task a child can do that is challenging, but not too hard to do. You know your own child best. Will she like the idea of a challenge or novel experience? Or will she need a chore that is easy enough that she can do it independently for a surefire success.
You will also want to provide some choice in chore selection. Maybe your 11-year-old finds garbage smells overwhelming, but is fine with emptying dishes from the dishwasher. Having him select chores will build buy-in. If your child is having trouble starting their selected chores, try using Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen’s “job talk,” which turns a verb/action like “wash the dishes” into a noun: “You are the dish washer tonight!” This creates ownership and can work wonders in getting your child to be a helper around the house.
Make it Visual
Some children have trouble following auditory directions or can’t create a mental picture of what you’re asking them to do. Writing down the steps that it takes to complete the chore into bite-sized and do-able chunks can help. For example, “clean your room” can be broken down into these steps: put your dirty clothes in the hamper, pick up your toys, put all toys in the toybox, and stack the books on your shelf. Writing down each step may be helpful for some children. You can also post photos of each step to show your child where they are in the process. When the room is clean, you can take a picture of the finished job. Later, when they have the “clean your room” task, they can try to “match the picture” (another strategy from Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen). This serves as a mental destination that they can achieve, rather than a daunting task where they aren’t sure where to start.
Kids learn by watching their parents and getting verbal coaching. While they have seen you do laundry, they may not fully understand the steps. Try the “I do – we do – you do” model of teaching. First, show your child and narrate what you are doing (e.g. I am sorting the clothes by color first…). Then have your child do the task with you as you coach him (e.g. let’s see you sort the clothes by color first). Lastly, let your child do the task independently.
A Win-Win: Teaching Chores Builds Social-Emotional and Executive Functioning Skills
Having your child help around the house is good for building responsibility and helping you out with tasks that need to be done. But an added bonus is that it can also build other critical social and life skills! Having children do chores builds:
Executive Functioning Skills
The home is a great location to begin to facilitate social and emotional skills and make them “stick”! Remember to provide positive feedback for the effort, not just the outcome: “I noticed that you were working hard at folding the clothes” or “The dog looks really happy this week since you’ve been playing with him and taking care of him.” Children will feel validated and rewarded knowing that you are supporting them and helping them contribute to the household.
Download the “Chores by Age” chart below to get started!
Try out some of these activities, and see your child flourish … and you will end up with a cleaner home!
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